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The Post-Liberal Agenda

ResPublica's Director Phillip Blond writes for the ResPublica fringe magazine

It might well come as a surprise to members of the other parties but most of our current politics and policies are, I believe, liberal and indeed they have been largely liberal since the 2nd world war.

Perhaps many would not disagree if I said most of our post-war politics has been an oscillation between collectivism and individualism. But part of my point is that individualism and collectivism are actually not socialist or conservative but rather two extreme forms of the liberal inheritance. So when the Labour Party embraced the state and the Conservative Party the unrestrained market, unbeknownst to themselves both were actually fulfilling a liberal logic that preceded and then encapsulated their politics and their philosophy.

But rather than offering a philosophical history to support this claim which I have done elsewhere – let me begin from where we are now. Is there truly a post-liberal moment? To argue such is in terms of contemporary politics to decry its consequences.  In the economy in the name of free markets and prosperity for all we have seen unprecedented concentration of economic power and the conversation of whole ranks of people to little more than wage dependent figures who have no real hope of ownership or genuine options to trade. In society the war on the family and on the permanence and sanctity of human relations continues. The deep social dysfunction of Britain with broken families at the bottom and the inversion of parent child relationships continue apace. In immigration we have seen massive and almost unprecedented movements of people that have seen both the skilled and the unskilled cut off the routes to independence and agency for those living in the lower echelons of British society. And finally at the top and the bottom of society we see moral collapse and the erasure of ethos from both institutions and the personal direction of human beings.

Now this is not to impugn Liberalism in its entirety, there is a liberalism we need and one of the great figures of British post-war politics refigured it brilliantly. Joe Grimond the decisive salvific figure of The Liberal Party in the 1950’s and 60’s was the first to really talk about a localised non statist form of democracy and economic participation. He spoke about mutualisation and employee ownership. Most importantly he saw that individualism was the greatest threat to individual liberty and he argued for the primacy of the group and association.

Unfortunately modern liberalism has forgotten these lessons and it has become a reduced and pervasive form of libertarianism that has corrupted not just the liberal party – but all parties. And when our politics becomes simply a eulogy to choice as it seems all politics is nowadays, it suggests that the foundational and moral act of our society is simply that of willing and acting –rather than saying what one should will or what one should act for.  The consequences of a malign liberalism are all about us - if one only believes in individuals then in the resulting competition a few individuals will win and everybody else will lose very badly – creating the need for state welfarism to pick up the pieces.

If we are to escape the disastrous consequences of this post-war oscillation between collectivism and individualism, then we must recover a different account of liberty – one founded on morality and association. Because only if we act in the name of the good of all can we preserve the good for ourselves and for our families and only if we believe we have something in common can we create a polity within which we can differ and be free.

This article has been published in the ResPublica Fringe magazine, a collection of articles and essays from our party conference partners.

Phillip Blond will be speaking at ‘Broken society or broken politics?’ a ResPublica/ Demos public fringe series at Labour Party conference: Sunday 30th September, 4.30pm – 5.45pm, Premier Inn Manchester Central, and Conservative Party conference: Tuesday 9th October, 5.00pm – 6.15pm, the ResPublica Marquee.

Comments on: The Post-Liberal Agenda

Gravatar Malcolm Rasala 03 October 2012
Bliss was it that dawn to be alive when Philip Blond awoke from his Red Toryism dreams and the reality of the modern Conservative Party. Only one question remains where is the evidence that the old Conservative Party was a scintilla different from the mod

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Detailed Summary

Date Published
30 September 2012

About The Authors

Phillip Blond

Phillip is an internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap bet...